While reading On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I found myself wondering if Ian Fleming had ever been married and what his relationship with his spouse was like.
The question arose early in the story when the father of Tracey (the supposed love of Bond’s life) is having a conversation with Bond about the pursuit of Tracey’s mother. When the comment that some women just want to be raped came up (not for the first time in the Bond series, mind you), I couldn’t help but wonder about Fleming and his wife. Living in the world of easy researching, I quickly found out that the romance and relationship of Fleming and his wife was a volatile as I expected based on some of the comments made by various male characters in his novels.
And yet, interestingly enough, it’s never Bond who makes such statements. If Bond is intended as some type of Mary Sue for Fleming, it’s interesting to note that while he enjoys the company of the ladies, he doesn’t necessarily support forcing his interest on them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Bond is exactly a knight in shining armor — though Fleming would have you think he is. Bond is a man of opinions and principles. While he isn’t agreeing that some women just need to be sexually assaulted, he is quick to agree that what the depressed Tracey needs is some good loving — and he’s only too happy to provide that interest for her.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feels like Fleming is trying to do some character building with Bond, though whether or not it’s a success depends on the reader. Some of the more recent Bond movies have suggested that Bond is a relic of different era and it feels like Fleming is saying that in this novel. Bond is dismissive of certain trends that younger men seem to be showing throughout the novel and clearly believes that his old-fashioned ways are the way to a woman’s heart –or at the very least her bedroom.
His nature leads him to save Tracey’s embarrassment early on in the story at the casino (this is after following her along the road because he finds her attractive). Tracey “rewards” him by offering herself to him because she’s planning to end her life and she might as well have the last night of good lovin’ from Bond.
In the bigger Bond picture, the story brings back Blofeld, though this time his nefarious plot is a bit more eyebrow-raising than we saw in Thunderball. It certainly sets the precedent for the various absurd schemes that various Bond villains come up with in the movies.
And, of course, Bond falls in love with and marries Tracey. Honestly, this feels a bit like Fleming is trying to set up some things for the next installment than it is actual character growth from Bond. I did find the idea that Bond is growing weary and lonely from his life as a secret agent an intriguing thread and it does (sort of) explain his falling for Tracey. However, in the overall scheme of things, Tracey isn’t really any different than other Bond love interests from other novels, except that she finally gets him to the altar. Unfortunately, newly wedded bliss doesn’t last long because (SPOILER alert for a novel that is fifty years old), Blofeld gets revenge by having Tracey killed.
Maybe knowing the ending from the movie hurt a bit here and maybe this twist was a bit more shocking in the end. It reminded me a bit of an early Jack Reacher novel in which Reacher is given a house and a reason to settle down and you have to wonder just how the author will undo this for the next story or else radically change the series as a whole. I feel like Fleming may have been trying to change things a bit and can’t help but wonder if and how a novel or two of Bond balancing his life as a secret agent with being a husband might have been.
I decided to re-read this one because it was put into the Amazon Unlimited program and I was allowed access to the audio version, read by David Tennant. I’d been curious about this new wave of Bond audiobooks since they were released a few years ago and I have to admit that Tennant does a nice job with this one. Given that Fleming was leaning into the movies a bit with this one, hearing the book read in Tennant’s native Scottish accent was an added bonus.